“Selma Is Now”

Lawmakers travel to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march

Lawmakers Travel to Selma, Alabama to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Historic Civil Rights March

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the historic voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery that led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act. To commemorate the anniversary, politicians from both parties, including President Obama and former President George W. Bush, will visit Selma, Alabama this weekend. (Notably absent from the group: all Republican leadership in Congress.)

The weekend will likely focus on racial progress, and while much progress has been made in the last half century, in many parts of the United States voting rights is under attack. Congress has failed to pass a fix for the Voting Rights Act, and while the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 has gained some bipartisan support in the House, not a single Senate Republican signed on to support the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 to repair the damage done by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County v. Holder decision.

Each of the lawmakers listed below will travel to Selma this weekend, yet not a single one has shown support for updating the Voting Rights Act.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL):

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC):

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH):

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL)

  • Rep. Byrne may call himself a “very strong supporter of the Voting Rights Act,” but he doesn’t mean the “old” Voting Rights Act. Byrne ignores the history of voter discrimination in his own state, qualifying his support of the VRA by saying, “I don’t want Alabama to be singled out as it was under the old Voting Rights Act… Everybody should be treated the same.”

Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL):

  • In 2012, Rep. Palmer penned a column titled “Voter ID protects right to honest elections.” In this piece, he wrote that “a required photo ID will not deny anyone the right to vote,” arguing that “entrenched interests maintain their power by stealing elections through voter fraud and thus suppressing other reform-minded black voters.”

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL):

  • Rep. Roby is co-hosting the Faith and Politics Institute’s Selma pilgrimage. Yet even she is not a full-throated supporter of the Voting Rights Act. Roby defended the Court’s Shelby decision saying, “Basically the court said today that, because this law doesn’t reflect modern realities, it can’t be fairly enforced. That makes sense because the American South today isn’t what it was 50 years ago.”

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN):

  • As a State Representative, now-Rep. Emmer made multiple attempts to pass voter identification bills through the Minnesota state house. Emmer’s efforts included requiring voters to both prove their citizenship when registering to vote and provide photo ID when casting a ballot.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO):

  • In 2012, Rep. Smith, while still in the Missouri State House, co-sponsored legislation that “changes the laws regarding elections by requiring a voter to provide photo identification.” This was not, however, a one-time event: Smith had been voting for photo ID legislation in the State House since 2006.

BOTTOM LINE: “Selma isn’t just about commemorating the past,” President Obama said in remarks today. “Selma is now.” Indeed, while making the trip to Selma this weekend is an important step in recognizing the fight for voting rights, conservatives in Congress need to offer more than just their words. They need to act to repair the damage done by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder and work to make voting more accessible, not more restrictive.

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